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How Does an Air Conditioner Actually Work?

We’ve all been there. You spend all day in the hot, sweaty, uncomfortable sun. And just when you think there’s no relief in sight, step into your home and feel a blast of cool air hit you. It’s refreshing, it’s soothing – all thanks to your air conditioning.

But as important as air conditioning is, most people expect it to “work” without really knowing how.

Well, today everything changes!

Air Conditioner Background History

Air conditioning has come a long way since the 1900’s. In 1902, a young engineer named Willis Carrier designed the first modern air conditioning system. The aim was to regulate temperature and humidity in factories. Back then, air conditioners were huge contraptions that required large amounts of energy to operate and were useful only in industrial settings. However, as technology advanced, smaller and more efficient air conditioners began to appear in homes.

Since then, air conditioning has become an integral part of modern life. Over the years, air conditioners have become increasingly efficient at cooling our homes and, more importantly, their footprint has been drastically reduced. Now you would be hard pressed to find newly constructed buildings that didn’t already have air conditioning pre-installed.

Types of Air Conditioner Units

Nowadays, people have a variety of air conditioners to choose from. Below are six categories of commonly used air conditioners:

Central Air Conditioners

Central air conditioning is an essential form of cooling for modern homes. These powerful machines can easily keep the whole house comfortable with a central unit located in an attic or basement and then connected to all other rooms via ducts and vents.

Cassette Air Conditioners

Cassette air conditioners are a type of ductless system that can be installed in any room. Unlike central systems, they do not require the installation of new ducts or the modification of existing structures. All you have to do is ceiling mount the unit and make sure it has access to an external exhaust vent.

Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioners

Like cassette air conditioners, mini-split ductless systems are a type of ductless system that can be installed in any room. The difference is that they use two separate units – an indoor unit that provides cooling and an outdoor unit with a compressor. This allows you to control the temperature of each room separately, making them perfect for multi-room homes.

Commercial Air Conditioners

Commercial air conditioners are designed to cool large commercial spaces such as offices and warehouses. They come in a variety of sizes and are more powerful than home systems, although they mimic the same basic operating principles as centralized and channelless systems.

Window Air Conditioners

Window air conditioners are the economical option for cooling small rooms. Perfect for homes, single rooms and offices, these units offer reliable temperature control in an economical package. While not as powerful or as quiet as other systems on the market, window air conditioners can be just what you need to keep your space comfortable on hot summer days.

Split Air Conditioners

Unlike central air conditioning, split systems do not require ducts to function properly. Instead, they use convenient flexible hoses to transfer chilled air from the indoor unit to the outdoor unit, making it an ideal cooling solution that won’t break the bank.

Air Conditioner Parts

While different types of air conditioners have their own unique components, the essential parts of operation are generally the same:

Evaporator Coil

An evaporator coil is an integral part of the refrigeration process as it helps to absorb heat from the air and then transfer it to the outside. It works by passing hot air over a coil containing a coolant that absorbs the heat and then blowing out cold air.


The compressor is the heart of the air conditioning system as it helps to pressurize and circulate the refrigerant through the unit. It also plays a crucial role in controlling the amount of cool air released into a room.

Condenser Coil

The condenser coil releases the heat collected by the evaporator coil to the atmosphere. It also helps pressurize and circulate the refrigerant to go through another refrigeration cycle.

Expansion Valve

The expansion valve plays an important role in the air conditioning process as it helps regulate the flow of refrigerant through the evaporator coil. This allows for better temperature control and prevents too much pressure from building up inside the device.

Air Conditioning Cooling Cycle Steps

Air conditioners work by repeating steps until the desired temperature is reached. The basic steps of this process are:

  1. The compressor compresses and circulates the refrigerant throughout the system.
  2. The refrigerant enters the evaporator coil, which absorbs heat from the air.
  3. Hot refrigerant is released into the condenser coil, which is cooled and returned to the compressor.
  4. Once the refrigerant has cooled, it is returned to the evaporator coil, which absorbs more heat from the air and restarts the cycle.
  5. As the temperature in the room approaches the desired level, the compressor will slow down or turn off until needed again.

Efficient Usage Tips for Your AC This Summer

If you want to get the most out of your air conditioner, it’s important to keep a few helpful tips in mind:

  • Raise the thermostat as much as you can while still being comfortable.
  • Seal doors and windows to prevent fresh air from escaping.
  • Clean your filters regularly to improve airflow efficiency.
  • Invest in a programmable or smart thermostat that gives you more control over temperatures when you’re not around.
  • Book annual maintenance visits with an experienced technician for best results

By following these tips, you can reduce your running costs and ensure your air conditioner lasts as long as possible.


Q: How often should I replace my air conditioner?

A: It’s recommended that you replace your air conditioner every 10-15 years, depending on how well it has been maintained.

Q: Can I perform maintenance on my air conditioner myself?

A: While there are some basic maintenance tasks you can perform yourself, such as changing the air filter, it’s best to leave more complex tasks to a professional HVAC technician.

Q: What’s the most efficient temperature to set my air conditioner to?

A: The most efficient temperature to set your air conditioner to is 78 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature allows for optimal energy efficiency while still keeping you cool.

Air Conditioning Maintenance

Constant AC maintenance is essential to keep your air conditioner running smoothly and efficiently.

Arrange for a qualified technician like Carrano Air to visit your home or business once or twice a year for an inspection, cleaning and any necessary repairs – you won’t regret it! Your expert may also recommend additional maintenance tasks such as replacing air filters or cleaning evaporator coils, which can further extend the life of your unit so that it continues to reliably provide ripple relief.

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